How has the pilot program with the city schools gone so far?

Some schools are doing a very good job. Other schools are finding it more challenging.

When the students walk into the cafeteria, they see something new. Rather than just one bin to throw everything in, they have a waste-separation station. So there's three bins, one for [nonrecyclable] solid waste, one for single-stream recycling and then one for food waste. We've actually been very impressed with the short amount of time that this type of separation becomes muscle memory for the children.

For the schools finding it more challenging, is everything going in one bin?

What we're finding is, yeah, what we call a lot of contamination, where there will be materials that could end up in single-stream recycling that are ending up in our bins, or the food waste is not being used and is just being put in solid waste.

In most of the schools where the students have taken leadership of the program, it's working out well. in schools where students aren't the leaders of this program, it's having some challenges.

Is Waste Neutral profitable? Those early years of a company tend to be tough.

The waste business is a high-volume, low-margin business, so our profit margins are very slim.

We're basically a little over break-even, but we hope that what's called the "density" improves as more people decide to recycle their food waste. The whole hauling business is based on density, meaning point A, point B, point C being very close together. And right now, just because of our market demand, it's very spread out and small.

So we hope the density improves to make it more profitable, like the rest of the waste sector. If you think of recycling, it used to be very spread out. Now it's dense; many people do it. But it used to be unprofitable for a long time.

If the school pilot works out, we would like to see the schools operate as nodes, so to speak, so that residents that live around the schools can take their organic waste to the containers at the school and have it recycled.

What's your sense of the future of waste?

In this sector of organics, it's growing. But it's growing voluntarily. Very few municipalities have made it systematic.

We hope that, as a population, we recognize that this is a recyclable resource. It's the oldest recyclable resource there is. Composting has happened since the beginning of time, but as a country we've moved toward centralization and landfills.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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